(WHAS11) One of the most watched Senate races in the country literally took center stage today at the Fancy Farm Picnic in Graves County. The 130th annual St. Jerome Catholic Church Parish Picnic is the traditional start of the Kentucky campaign season.
Ahead in the polls and riding a fiscal conservative wave, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul inspired the loudest ovations, both for and against him, from thousands of people on hand. Supporters of Democrat Jack Conway were especially organized and included contingents of union members and their families who came early to claim choice seats.
"This race presents a clear choice," Conway shouted, "A clear choice between my proven record and our responsible proposals for the future and the risky and radical ideas of my opponent."
"Washington is broken," countered Paul, whose comments varied little from his standard stump speech, "Government needs reform from top to bottom."
Before the afternoon speeches, the political theatre of Fancy Farm was in full bloom. A Paul partisan dressed as a dolphin held a sign that said Conway was a "Flipper" on Cap and Trade. Another Paul supporter armed with a scythe and dressed as "Death" criticized Conway and the so called "Death Tax" or Estate Tax.
A Conway partisan mocked Paul supporters by pretending to be one. The young man carried a Rand Paul fan while wearing an aluminum foil cap and holding a poster upon which a "Dora the Explorer" pinata was affixed with duct tape, in a protest against Latino immigrants.
"Having a Hispanic cartoon character on kids television is making it think, letting kids think its okay that anyone can come in our country," said the unidentified Conway supporter, who added that such hi jinks are part of what Fancy Farm is all about.
Another Conway supporter mocked Paul by dressing as a caveman called "Neander-Paul," carrying a club and shouting "Down with the government." The most coordinated stunt was the Conway campaign's "Rand Paul's Waffle House."
Conway said Paul "waffled" when he reneged on a primary campaign pledge and accepted contributions from senators who had voted for the bank bailout, when Paul called for term limits but said he would not unilaterally limit his own tern and when Paul pledges to balance the budget but fails to offer specifics.
"Why is he waffling?" Conway asked rhetorically, "because he knows you and you will not buy his risky agenda ladies and gentleman."
With polls showing the national Democratic agenda and its leaders unpopular in Kentucky, Paul eagerly linked Conway to Washington.
"I say to Nancy Pelosi, 'Come on down to Kentucky. Campaign with Jack," Paul laughed "You can talk about cap and trade, Obamacare all you want. Good luck on that one, Jack."
"Jack Conway thinks what Barack Obama thinks," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, "Jack Conway thinks what Nancy Pelosi thinks, and that's that Washington knows best."
"Unlike the rest of the country, in 2008 Kentucky did not fall for 'hope and change,' McConnell continued, "Kentucky knew better. This year we know better once again. We know better than to send Jack Conway to Washington to rubber stamp the Obama Pelosi agenda."
"I think the voters of Kentucky are smarter than that, and those folks aren't on the ballot down here," said Daniel Logsdon, Kentucky Democratic Party Chairman. Yet, Logsdon insisted that "most of the country is with the Democrats as far as the issues go."
"He's not running on some national Democratic agenda," said former Kentucky governor Paul Patton, Conway's former boss, "Kentucky Democrats don't just line up with national Democrats. We're independent and have our views. Jack does. I do."
Patton predicts "a competitive race."
The speeches were delivered in a pavilion that seats about 300 people. Ceiling fans and portable air conditioners took the edge off the sweltering 90 degree temperatures.
"Lord, may our words be gracious and tender today," said Bishop William Medley before delivering an opening prayer, " for tomorrow we may have to eat them."
The program stayed tame for about four minutes as Governor Steve Beshear touted his own accomplishments. Then, he delivered the red meat, launching an attack on Republican Rand Paul.
"Nobody really knew where this guy stood until the primary was over," Beshear said gesturing toward Paul, "and then he escaped his handlers about three times. And when he did, he actually told the people of Kentucky where he stood on some issues. and it scared the beliving...... out of us all."
Beshear watched his words and all of the speakers honored the profanity ban put into place after Conway's "I'm one tough son of a bitch" comment at last year's Fancy Farm. It is a memory Conway is anxious to erase, saying after the speech "that is so 2009."
"Normally I detest more regulation," chuckled McConnell in his speech, "but this year, we're on a seven second delay on Jack Conway's speech."
Paul piled on, saying not only is Conway barred from saying the "seven words you can't say on TV," but "in addition, there are six more words you won't hear Jack say. President. Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid."
Conway used Paul's own words against him as well, making Paul's "accidents happen" remarks after the BP oil spill a chant for his speech.
"What did Rand Paul say to the widows of Kentucky coal miners? 'Accidents happen.' What would Rand Paul say to the thousands of Americans who lost their life savings because of Wall Street's greed? 'accidents happen.' And what did Mitch McConnell say to the Republican National Committee the morning after the primary? 'accidents happen.'"
Paul's Republican primary Trey Grayson could not help but laugh at the line. Conway supporters roared.
Paul reverted to more of an academic argument against the tax code and regulations.
"With every new crisis, the left calls for more government," Paul said, "Listen to 'em chant. 'more government, more government, more government.'"
This is an important election," Conway said, "This is an important election. It's not about me., It's not about a waffling pessimist that just wants to be the prince of cable TV. It's about the people of Kentucky."
"Rand Paul plays to your fears rather than your hopes," Conway said, "He even rails that in America today we're like the fall of Rome. Well, you know what? I say he's wrong. I say our best days are ahead of us. And you know what? I'll quote Bill Clinton. There's nothing wrong with America that can't be fixed with what's right with America, Ladies and Gentleman."
"I think America's greatest days lie ahead of her," countered Paul "but only if we the citizenry, the beleaguered taxpayer, the working backbone of America join together to take this great country back."